Bafta-winning actress Jodie Comer discusses the unusual dynamic of Killing Eve’s two lead characters… and why her accent leaves people looking puzzled.
Hearing Jodie Comer’s real-life speaking voice is a baffling experience for anyone used to seeing her as ruthless assassin Villanelle.
While her on-screen character speaks with a stern Russian accent in Killing Eve, Comer’s own is distinctly Liverpudlian.
“When I open the mouth, people look really confused,” the actress tells BBC News. “It’s usually the faces that are the best.
“My own voice is so wavy and high pitched, I think that’s what shocks people, the way it sounds. [My tone is] quite musical, but Villanelle is more rooted.
“It’s definitely the Scouse as well,” she adds. “I think in the north of England the accents are so strong. Although a lot of people in America think I’m Scottish. Or Australian.”
One opportunity Comer had to speak in her regular voice recently was during her acceptance speech at last month’s Bafta TV Awards.
Comer took home the prize for best actress in one of the night’s most hotly contested categories – beating competition from Keeley Hawes and her own co-star Sandra Oh.
It topped off a phenomenal year for Comer, who has become one of the most critically acclaimed actresses in the country thanks to her role in Killing Eve.
The show is based on the original novellas by Luke Jennings and the first series was adapted for the screen by Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Oh plays MI5 agent Eve Polastri, who becomes obsessed with Villanelle, an apparently emotionless serial killer.
The first series saw the two women gradually learn more about each other as they became further involved in a cat-and-mouse chase around the world.
The new season sees Waller-Bridge handing the writing reins over to Call The Midwife’s Emerald Fennell.
It has already been warmly welcomed by critics after its broadcast in the US.
“Both Oh and Comer are superb, and riveting to watch,” said Jo Berry in Digital Spy of season two’s opening episode.
“And while much of the new season remains enjoyably familiar, as these two women circle each other once more – alongside the return of the brilliantly deadpan Fiona Shaw as Carolyn – a new direction is also hinted at.”
Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone said: “The premiere is mostly concerned with reassembling the pieces and arranging the chessboard for whatever story Fennell has in mind.
“But Eve and Villanelle still feel like themselves, just as Killing Eve itself feels relatively intact, despite the behind-the-scenes shuffle. It’s a promising start to a season I was very worried about going in.”
Writing in The Telegraph, Ed Power said Comer’s screen presence was enough to carry some of the less-than-perfect aspects of the show.
“Comer, who should have won a Golden Globe and every other award for which she was eligible, remained hypnotic as a chilling killing machine draped in couture ruffles of brutalised glamour,” he wrote.
“Everything else – the hazy plot, often thinly drawn supporting characters, an intrusive retro soundtrack – was irrelevant.”
Waller-Bridge has remained a producer on the new series, which picks up immediately where series one left off.
Viewers follow both Eve and Villanelle in the seconds after the dramatic climax of series one as a new adventure begins.
Comer is full of praise for Waller-Bridge (“She’s a babe, she’s one of the greats, already”) but also welcomes what Fennell has brought to the new series.
“Emerald really captured the heart of the show,” Comer says.
“The writing is absolutely different [this series], Phoebe and Emerald are so similar but they’re genius writers in their own right.”
The show’s producer Sally Woodward Gentle pins down one particular difference between the first and second series.
“Phoebe loves a sausage gag,” she explains at the season two launch.
“So I think Emerald probably stayed away from sausage gags, because that’s a Phoebe thing.
(Sausages either appear or are mentioned in four of the eight episodes in the first season.)
“But Emerald has got a brilliant deadpan, dark sense of humour. And the more deadpan she plays it the funnier it gets.”
Being the breakout star of one of TV’s biggest hits has afforded Comer a rather A-list fan base.
Anne Hathaway heaped praise over her on Graham Norton’s sofa in April. And Taylor Swift told Comer when they met at the Golden Globes how much she liked her.
“Reese Witherspoon is a fan, that was major,” Comer adds.
“But I think every single one of us who was a part of it who was surprised [at how successful it was].
“We believed in Phoebe, adored the scripts, crew were fantastic, but there’s so much out there that you just don’t know.
“And then to see it grow week by week, and I believe that was through the fans watching it, word of mouth. I think that’s how things go now, recommendations off your friends. It spread like wildfire and it didn’t seem to stop.”
One particular aspect of Killing Eve to have been welcomed by critics is the unusual dynamic of two women being involved in a violent cat-and-mouse chase.
Rosie Knight of The Hollywood Reporter said the new series “doesn’t pull punches when it comes to exploring the vulnerabilities of the strong women at its core”.
Speaking to Radio Times, Oh said: “The focus is unabashedly about the relationship and the psyche of these two female characters.
“There are plenty of shows where there are two women running around doing things. But the focus of this show – how much our characters are involved with each other in a deeply psychological way – is what’s different.”
“We’ve been investigating and living in the white, male psyche, and suddenly, when something else pops up, you think, ‘Wait, that feels more like me.”‘
Comer agrees, describing the pairing as a “relationship between two women that is so complex, and something we hadn’t been able to explore.
“This mutual fascination and obsession that we all experience with people in our lives, I think that’s what Phoebe has been so amazing at, and what people have enjoyed watching, because I think they can relate to it.”
As a relative newcomer to this level of fame, we wrap up by asking Comer what is the one thing the public don’t yet know about her that may surprise them.
“Oh my god, is that something I wanna share?!” she laughs, before reverting back to her Scouse roots for the answer.
“It’s never old news that I’m from Liverpool. Everyone’s like… what?! Maybe we could put a disclaimer on this interview so everyone knows.”